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How your smartphone can help improve your health

Some might argue that the introduction of smartphones and computers has contributed to the obesity epidemic in America. After all, who can exercise when they are attached to a computer screen all day?

But using your smartphone in the right way can actually help to improve your overall health thanks to amazing developments in mobile fitness technologies over the past five years. In fact, technology has improved so much that many of today's top smartphones feature some type of health and fitness application. For example, iPhone users are probably familiar with Apple's HealthKit, whereas Android users might be familiar with Samsung's S Health application.

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Here are some ways in which your smartphone can actually help you improve your health.

• Food diary. According to a study published in 2008 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, those who diligently kept a food diary — six days a week — shed about twice as much weight as people who only recorded their eating habits once a week or less. Keeping a food diary provides a source of accountability for those who are committed to losing weight and improving their health. Apps like My Fitness Pal or My Net Diary give you the ability to record everything you eat or drink and use that information to determine your nutritional intake for each day. You can easily calculate how many calories, fat, sugar and other nutrients you consume. This is an especially great benefit to people who have special dietary needs, such as those with diabetes or heart disease.

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• Exercise log. Did you know it is recommended that each healthy adult participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day? Yet, according to http://www.fitness.gov, less than 20 percent of adults meet that suggested amount. Exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise can help control weight, prevent health conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure, boost energy, and improve mood. While gyms like Brick Bodies and Planet Fitness — both of which have locations in Reisterstown — will give you a place to workout, fitness apps will give you a place to record and track your workout information. Gone are the days of using a spreadsheet to record your exercise or calculate your BMI. With apps like FitStar Personal Trainer or Nike+ Training Club you can create personalized fitness plans, track weight, map and record your runs and walks, track minutes of activity per day, and even track your number of steps per day. These apps help make getting in shape a lot easier.

• Meditation. Mental health is just as important as physical health in achieving a healthy balance. According to several Harvard University scientists, meditation can actually help rebuild your brain. In a study published in 2011, researchers found that patients who reported a decrease in stress throughout an eight-week meditation program also experienced a decrease in the density of gray matter in the amygdala, which plays a significant role in controlling stress and anxiety in the brain. Take a basic meditation class at Mindful Freedom yoga studio, in Reisterstown, or download one of several great apps like Headspace or Calm to meditate on your own schedule. Use your app to participate in guided meditation programs or set the timer and practice mindfulness on your own. You can even set peaceful background scenes or calming music on your phone to help ease the mind and body.

• Heart rate tracker. For those who are being treated for heart conditions, tracking your heart rate can help you avoid putting too much of a strain on your heart. Because regular moderate exercise improves the efficiency of your heart, the healthier you are the less beats per minute your heart will need to pump blood through the body. You can track your heart rate at different times during the day — both at rest and after activity — to get an idea of how healthy your heart is. Some newer-model smartphones have pre-downloaded health software that will measure your heart rate using your index finger. You can also download apps like Instant Heart Rate or Runtastic Heart Rate Monitor.

• Sleep pattern tracker. It's no secret that a good night's sleep is essential to good health. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. And people who do not get enough sleep are likely to have more difficulty controlling their appetite due to hormonal changes in the body. Encouraging good sleep patterns is as critical to your health as diet and exercise. With apps like Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock or SleepBot, you can use your smartphone to set daily sleep goals and track the amount of sleep you are getting per night. You can even set a sleep alarm to be sure you are not only waking on time but going to bed on time as well. Some apps even include extras such as guided deep-sleep meditations and soothing background noises such as rainforest sounds or crashing waves.

While your smartphone might not be the answer to all of your health woes, it can provide the motivation and resources you need to begin your journey towards health — and hopefully happiness.

Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at threepeasservices@gmail.com.

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